UTAH (ABC4) – As Utah prepares for the arrival of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, questions continue to linger about the severity of the new strain.

Local and national health officials are working to learn more about what’s being called the highly mutated omicron variant of COVID-19 and just how much current measures to fight the delta variant will need to be ramped up as the United States braces for our first case of the newest strain.

Currently, Omicron is spreading fast in Africa, and we see it in Europe, Canada, and China.

Dr. Leisha Nolen is the Utah state epidemiologist. She tells ABC4 while the Omicron variant is more transmissible it’s still unclear just how severe the new variant is.

So, what are the four things you should know about this new variant?

Doctors say they’re still uncertain of how effective our current vaccines will hold against Omicron but encourage those unvaccinated to get the jab as it remains the best form of protection.

“Even if it isn’t a great match to this new variant, it’s going to help us” says Nolen.

Doctors say the omicron has a large number or mutations…but what does that exactly mean?

Dr. Nolen explains “it’s slightly different than the original virus was, it might be a little different for what our body is trained to recognize.”

She adds that parts of the protein the vaccine targets aren’t an exact match. So, a person’s body who was contracted a recent infection may experience a different response.

Nolen says the newer variants are mutated forms of the existing viruses, she says the covid virus mutates slower than influenza.

“Essentially, it’s war in the virus world, where the viruses are trying to get the best way to infect people” says Nolen.

And with another major holiday and potential family gatherings under a month away, Dr. Nolen tells ABC4 getting a covid vaccine shot is critical, and it’s not a bad idea to wear a mask in places where it’s difficult to distance. This as doctors say ICU beds are nearing capacity and heightened transmission rates.

“Here in Utah our hospitals have been overwhelmed for three months, to add another level because of omicron, and the flu can really put it over the edge” says Dr. Nolen.